Caregivers play a huge role in the lives of older adults as the senior population continues to grow in Canada. With a larger percentage of people over the age of 65 in the population than even before, the demand for home caregivers has also increased significantly as the majority of seniors are choosing to age at home.
This typically begins with a family member providing the initial care, which usually starts out light and manageable. While caregiving can certainly have its rewards, it can also be very stressful and challenging. Especially if there are health concerns involved, it can be distressing to watch declining health, wishing that more could be done. It can also be very a time consuming endeavor, depending on the level of care that is needed.
Caregiving responsibilities can be so demanding that the caregivers themselves forget to focus on their own health, and chronic stress takes its toll on overall health as well. The emotional and physical demands required for providing effective care can be draining, so plenty of rest and nutritious food is needed to compensate. When caregivers have so many things on the go at once, nutrition, regular exercise, and quality sleep tend to suffer. If high levels of stress go for too long without any relief, then caregiver burnout is likely to result.
What is Caregiver Burnout?
Caregiver burnout occurs when the individual reaches a state of physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion. This is often the result of trying to take on too much for too long. Since caregiving is generally a long term situation, it is easy to let a stressful environment become the norm and carry on for years. Stress management is crucial for health for both caregiver and individual being cared for.
Some common symptoms of caregiver burnout, may be:
- Sleep issues
- Getting easily irritated
- Lack of social activity
- Losing interests in hobbies
- Weight loss / weight gain
- Feelings of despair
- Anxiety or depression
Caregivers experiencing these symptoms should think about adjusting routines and expectations to reduce stress and improve overall health.
Tips for Managing Caregiver Stress
There are several lifestyle practices and other helpful suggestions caregivers may use to help avoid caregiver burnout and alleviate stress.
Some helpful tips for handling caregiver stress, include:
- Focus on your own health
- Make time for yourself
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help
By engaging in a few healthy lifestyle practices you can put yourself in a much better position to handle stress and avoid illness. Maintaining a good level of health basically comes down to 4 things:
- Social activity
Nutrition is extremely important to ensure that the body has enough vitamins, minerals, and protein to carry out its intended functions. Too often people leading busy lives tend to neglect healthy food because fast food and processed food is quicker and easier. Unfortunately they have very little nutritional value, but plenty of empty calories.
A poor diet can lead to a variety of health problems like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
Physical activity is another key to good health. Even just 30 to 60 minutes a day of light activity can make a big difference. Getting out for a walk when you have time, or walking to work if possible is a good low impact activity. Incorporating exercise into caregiving practices is also beneficial for both parties.
Mindful breathing exercises like meditation are excellent for stress relief. Yoga and tai chi are great exercises to do with seniors.
Getting enough sleep is essential to allow the body time to recover from the demands of caregiving. Sleep issues can be difficult to overcome, but other healthy practices like eating well, physical exercise, and mindful breathing also encourage better quality sleep.
This key factor to overall health is often overlooked but is very important for mental fitness and general mood. Social interaction helps keep the brain sharp and active. Without regular social engagement it is easy to become isolated, which can lead to depression. Making time for fun activities with friends and family is necessary.
Make Time for Yourself
Caregivers often become so focused on others needs, they neglect their own. Taking some time for yourself to relax and refresh is critical to being able to provide effective care. Make some time for hobbies, social events, and giving attention to your own health.
Respite caregivers are always available for family caregivers in need of a break. They can assist with everything from housekeeping, to hygiene, to health and nutrition. This is also a great way to stir up the routine and engage new home care practices.